In the last ten years, Congress has held over 20 hearings on autonomous vehicles (AVs), a third of which took place in just one committee: House Energy & Commerce (E&C). Lawmakers have heard from tech experts, safety advocates, and disabled Americans who’ve urged action to expand mobility access through AV deployment. They’ve held AV hearings on insurance implications, trucking, and competition with China. But after over 55 hours of hearings, an AV bill still has yet to reach the president’s desk.
Meanwhile, human driving on U.S. roads has become increasingly fatal, and AV developers in China have crept up on American competitors.
In order to move AVs forward, Americans, and the companies developing autonomous vehicle technology, are looking to Congress to update the rules of the road. Luckily, autonomous vehicle legislation in Congress has a history of bipartisan support.
In 2017, Congress came within inches of the goal line, passing a bipartisan AV bill through the E&C Committee that laid out a basic federal framework for autonomous vehicle regulation and deployment. The SELF DRIVE Act then went on to pass the full House of Representatives in a bipartisan voice vote, before stalling in the Senate.
Six years later, it’s time for Congress to get the job done. AVs have made dramatic gains in the intervening years and the need is even greater for lawmakers to roll up their sleeves and work across the aisle to draft legislation securing American leadership in the AV industry.
U.S. leadership in the AV space will boost our economy and create new jobs. With the global market for vehicle AI and autonomous vehicles expected to reach over $320 billion by 2030, we should be aggressive in passing incentives and regulations to streamline U.S. development and capture the burgeoning market.
And local adoption of AV technology is demonstrating how the industry will create new jobs, too, despite the fact that the vehicles don’t employ drivers.
As part of their expansion in San Francisco, autonomous rideshare company, Cruise, signed labor agreements with IBEW and SEIU to bring new jobs to the area. At the end of the day, autonomous vehicles are just that—vehicles. Widespread AV adoption will bring with it a need for advanced vehicle repairs, and electric AVs will require the construction and maintenance of charging infrastructure. This means continued, and expanded, demand for a whole host of workers from electricians, to engineers and mechanics.
But despite the safety and economic benefits that AVs have to offer, inaction on federal guidance and legislation has limited the rollout of AVs in the United States. Meanwhile, a patchwork of local attempts to guide the deployment of AVs have resulted in delays, red tape, and uncertainty. Not to mention that the federal motor vehicle safety standards in place are outdated, and restrictions on AV production in the U.S. are putting American manufacturers at further risk of falling behind international competitors. We desperately need federal action to enable nationwide AV development and production and move the industry forward.
Leaders on the E&C Committee agree. Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) stated recently that “[i]n order to ensure Americans can reap the benefits of self-driving vehicles, we must enact a comprehensive national law that establishes a pathway to safe deployment.” And Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) doubled down on that sentiment, urging his Republican colleagues to make good on their promise and “find a bipartisan path that promotes the safe, responsible deployment of AVs.”
While the partisan divide has stalled congressional action on hot button issues across the board, AVs have the power to break that logjam. After all, bringing down traffic fatalities caused by human error and increasing mobility for non-driving communities are causes that all lawmakers can champion.
After 55 hours and nearly two-dozen hearings on AVs, it’s time for Congress to end the Q&A and get serious about passing AV legislation. The E&C Committee needs to break through the endless cycle of witness testimony and enable the deployment of driverless cars that will save lives on U.S. roads and keep our nation at the cutting edge of an emerging industry.
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